No smoke or smell from crematoriums?
March 10, 2007 7:54 PM   Subscribe

How come there is no smoke or cooking flesh smell coming from crematoriums?

And if a technology exists to clean this smoke, why isn't it more widely used to prevent general air pollution?
posted by esereth to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
An acquaintance used to work across the street from a crematorium. He said that he would see a puff of smoke from the chimney once in a while. It didn't appear to be the furnace chimney because it was so irregular.
posted by philfromhavelock at 8:02 PM on March 10, 2007

Crematoriums are regulated for polluting output like any other combustion based industry. Pollution controls do exist to reduce the polluting content of combustion, smokestack scrubbers for coal plants, for example, are a commonplace solution for reducing emissions that cause acid rain per the Clean Air Act. They are not used more widely than they are because they add expense to industrial combustion processes, so emissions are only processed to the degree the law requires. In the case of the cremation industry, I imagine that emissions are over-processed because minimizing distasteful aspects of the process is so important. Check it out, this fine piece of modern cremation equipment is tricked out with the SMOKE-BUSTERâ„¢ 140 to "effectively consumes and destroys smoke and odor from the cremation process."
posted by nanojath at 8:09 PM on March 10, 2007

Firsthand information here, many crematoriums run in the middle of the night so that the smoke isn't obvious. Also, if a really fat person is being cremated, it's not unusual to see flames coming out of the stacks. The smell is negated (from what I'm told) by the super high heat of the furnaces which vaporize anything that would smell.
posted by ColdChef at 8:14 PM on March 10, 2007


Perhaps the extremely high temperatures are sufficient to combust the volatiles that are recognized as burning animal protein and render them into more entropic molecules?

I'd imagine that crematoriae do so at far higher temperatures than a barbeque.

Hmm, I wonder if there is a way/synthetic to know what burning human smells like as opposed to burning bovine or porcine....
posted by porpoise at 8:44 PM on March 10, 2007

I once lived near a crematorium in South London. Very occasionally, on a still day, you could catch a slight whiff of something like bacon in the air.
posted by normy at 8:52 PM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what the technological solution is, but the reason they're using whatever they're using that they would not be allowed to operate if it made the whole neighborhood smell like burnt dead people. And nobody would take their dead people there to get burnt.
posted by aubilenon at 12:06 AM on March 11, 2007

I'm with porpoise, they are not cooking, they are not burning for fuel, they are applying vast amounts of heat/energy to break down a body into it's components. Carbon Dioxide, Water Vapor, other random molecules.

For the second question: "why isn't it more widely used to prevent general air pollution?"... In other applications they are trying to get energy out of the process, in cremation they are pouring energy into the process. It costs energy to cremate a corpse without a smell... You can't run a power generation facility that takes more energy to purify the emissions than the facility generates.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:21 AM on March 11, 2007

I recall a boat ride on the Ganges River in Varanasi, THE place in India to die and be cremated on a sandalwood pyre. As the boat rounded a bend in the river, the aroma of delicious barbecue wafted through the air. I thought it smelled pretty good until I realized what I was smelling.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 3:27 AM on March 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Another concern is the small amount of burning mercury from dental fillings that crematoriums emit: link
posted by Frank Grimes at 8:14 AM on March 11, 2007

I wonder if there is a way/synthetic to know what burning human smells like...

I hate to contribute to a derail, but since the question has already been answered I'll jump in. Spend time in an operating room; the electrosurgery units that are used in many operations sear the tissues on which they are used and have a distinct smell. I really don't know how to describe it other than "burnt flesh"; some people find it nauseating, others (like me) aren't bothered by it.
posted by TedW at 3:23 PM on March 11, 2007

It's difficult for me to describe the smell of burnt human flesh. Particularly since it's rarely alone. For me, it's usually mixed with the smell of burnt hair or gasoline or tar or melted plastic. But just flesh...on it's own? It's unlike any other meat I've ever smelled. A biologist friend once surmised that perhaps we have an evolutionary repulsion to the smell of burned human (though the statement above about some people not being bothered by it seems to discredit that). I can't seem to be able to separate the sights and sounds of charred remains (both which I've tried to block out) from the smell. But I'll try to pay more attention next time. At least so that I'll have an answer in threads like these.

I can say: rotting human flesh is the most unimaginable, vile smell I can possibly imagine. When you find a putrid bag of maggot-infested gassy skin that's oozing and belching post-mortem burps and farts, you begin to wish to the heavens that the wall socket would have overloaded and burned this person up, because a pile of bones, sinew and ash is a fucking picnic in the butterfly park compared to this sludge. And you can kiss goodbye to whatever clothes you're wearing, any shoes you have on, anything that's in your pocket that may retain a stench, because rot permeates faster than Chris Rock catchphrases.

I realize this is off topic, so I apologize.
posted by ColdChef at 9:05 PM on March 11, 2007 [6 favorites]

...the statement above about some people not being bothered by it seems to discredit that...

I would actually tend to agree with your biologist friend. Certainly you are right when you say the smell is unique; that is why I can't say it smells like chicken/beef/pork or anything else in my everyday experience. As for the evolutionary aversion, the fact that so many people are turned off by the smell as opposed to almost no one being bothered by the smell of meat on a grill would support the aversion hypothesis. The exceptions (like me) might just be people who have been around it long enough to overcome their natural aversion.
posted by TedW at 5:11 AM on March 12, 2007

More at Wikipedia.
posted by Alt F4 at 2:17 PM on March 12, 2007

What a difference a day makes. I can still not tell you what cremated human smells like, but I can now tell you what cremated dog smells like. It smells gross. Like burned ass hair. The dog was dead before it burned up, so the rotting may have come into play, though. Disgusting sight, disgusting smell. Oh, and I have reported these people to animal cruelty authorities. Apparently, they were fighting these dogs against each other way out in the woods. When we reported to a grass fire, the evidence was revealed.
posted by ColdChef at 4:16 PM on March 12, 2007

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